BETHLEHEM – Connor Frey felt some nerves when he stepped onto the mat in the most prestigious wrestling tournament he had ever competed in.
The Lehighton freshman quickly shook it off and pinned his first two opponents.
He followed that with a 7-4 decision over Stroudsburg's Keith Howie in the 160-pound quarterfinal last night at the Bethlehem Holiday Wrestling Classic at Liberty High School.
He will meet Northampton's Bobby Fehr in tomorrow's semifinals, which have been pushed up to 9:30 a.m. because of the forecasted snow.
"I went out there for my first match and I couldn't feel my legs until I took my first shot," said Frey. "Then it just all cleared up."
Frey pinned Wyoming Valley West's Juan Rajo in 2:31 in the pig tail round. He showed Delaware Valley's Lucas Markowitz the lights in 4:32 in a preliminary.
Frey improved to 8-2 this season, but his two losses are to state champs Mike Racciatto (Pen Argyl) and Garrett Pappleman (Central Dauphin).
"Connor is a freshman, but he doesn't wrestle like a freshman," said Lehighton head coach Dan Williams. "He does this year round. He comes with a lot of experience. I'm not surprised because I know what he puts into it."
Losing to Racciatto by a decision last week gave Frey some extra confidence heading into the tournament.
"Since I only lost to Racciatto 9-2," Frey said. "I realized I could compete on that level as well."
He was hoping for a top-four finish and a trip to the medal stand, but now he needs one more win to secure a top-two finish.
"Now that he's got himself a position in the semifinals," said Williams. "He's got to reassess what his goals are. It should be 'Hey, I can win this.'"
Two other area wrestlers remain in medal contention. Northern Lehigh's Ty Herzog and Northwestern's Mike Ortiz dropped their quarterfinal bouts then won a consolation bout. They will both try to wrestle back tomorrow with third-place as their highest possible finish.
"I think I can keep wrestling, move through this consolation bracket," said Herzog. "I'm going to wrestle the same, just go after whoever it is as hard as I can."
Herzog (152) had a bye into the preliminary round, where he beat Stroudsburg's Jake Jakobsen, 13-6. He then dropped a 5-7 decision to Central Dauphin's Austin Rose.
"I wrestled [Rose] a couple weeks before in the Brandywine Tournament and he majored me," said Herzog. "So, even this is a big improvement for me. I was disappointed with the loss, but I knew I wrestled well."
Herzog beat Delaware Valley's Colin Irwin in a consolation match to stay alive.
Ortiz opened with a bye at 170 then beat Phillipsburg's Broderick Bupivi 8-6 in the preliminary round. He dropped a 2-0 decision to Big Spring's Cody Seibert in the quarterfinals.
"It definitely didn't go the way I planned," Ortiz said. "But I just have to come back from here and get third."
Ortiz beat Liberty's Noah Klingborg in the consolations to advance.
A few other area wrestlers put in solid performances, but got knocked out of the tournament on Friday.
Northwestern's Jarett White (106) beat Lehighton's Tegan Durishin in their opening match, 12-2. White then fell in the quarterfinals and lost his first consolation bout.
Durishin wrestled back with two consolation wins before falling to Council Rock South's Robbie Fasciocco.
Northwestern's Mitch Evans (160) won his first bout by technical fall, then dropped a tech fall to Fehr.
The Tiger senior came back with two consolation wins before falling, 2-0 Steve Woolley of Warwick.
Northern Lehigh's Cody Bowman (182) also won his first match then fell in the preliminary round. He won two wrestle backs before falling to Freedom's John Callahan, 4-0.
Two other local grapplers went 2-2 at Liberty.
Northern Lehigh's Marcus Hardiman (170) won his first bout then fell in the second round. He came back to win one consolation match before getting eliminated by Council Rock South's Tom Shaatiel, 3-2.
Northwestern's Jason Hottinger (120) received a first-round forfeit, lost his second bout to Pen Argyl's Mike Williams, then beat Honesdale's John Lemon, 3-0, in a consolation before getting eliminated in his next match.
The following wrestlers won one match at the tournament: Northwestern's Quintin Bernhard (113) and Joe Colucci (138); Northern Lehigh's Ryan Rubio (126) and Nate Farber (145); and Lehigthon's Marques Spencer (182)
Saturday's card will begin at 9:30 a.m., an hour earlier than scheduled. After the first session, which includes semifinals, and two rounds of consolations, the finals and consolation finals will take place after a short break instead of the originally schedule 5 p.m. Finals are expected to be held sometime between 2-4 p.m.
Wyoming Seminary leads the team stadnings after one day with 250.5 points. Nazareth is second at 138.
Northwestern is 23rd with 48 points. Lehighton is 25th at 45 points. Northern Lehigh is 28th at 35.